Rollinger and Council Act on Climate Change

Three cheers for Mayor Pro Tem Verna Rollinger and our City Council! Enthusiastic attendees, like me, were not always able to conceal our jubilation when the Council voted overwhelmingly on Jan. 24 to adopt Ms. Rollinger’s thoughtful, practical agenda bill calling for four specific actions aimed at implementing the city’s 2009 Climate Protection Action Plan.

Specifically, her bill called for 1) preparing an annual report on the city’s use of electricity, water, and fuel and making this information available to our citizenry.  While the details need to be worked out regarding how often the statistics will be gathered and how the numbers will be made available, the data needed to assess progress will be coming our way; 2) reporting to the council concerning the option of installing in-the-ground purple pipes, designated to carry reclaimed water, when roads are torn up for repaving or undergrounding. This would reduce the plumbing costs for reclaimed water in the future; 3) investigating the use of solar energy systems for city facilities in ways less likely to have negative impacts; and 4) discontinuing the city’s purchase of single-use plastic bottles, except in emergency situations. In addition to these measures, the council voted in favor of sponsoring a “water usage forum,” led by South Coast Water District manager Mike Dunbar, and open to the public.

Eight citizens spoke in favor of the agenda bill; no one spoke against the measure. Chris Prelitz, a former chair of the Environmental Committee, circulated among council members an aerial photo of the solar installations atop his roof and a copy of his most recent monthly electricity bill, which amounted to $1.06. A fount of information on green building, he urged our city to follow Santa Monica’s example in going solar and saving money in the process.  Max Isles, similarly a former EC member, said in response to complaints about the visual impacts of solar panels on roofs, “I like seeing solar installations on properties.”  He added that residents in other cities look out on nuclear and coal power plants, and for us to use those energies without generating solar power when we can is indefensible.  Bluebelt Coalition member Mike Beanan reminded us that “half of the energy expended in the city is used just moving water around.” He stressed the environmental and cost benefits of using reclaimed water. Reclaimed water “could be brought to potable standards using 12,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per million gallons, while 14,000 kilowatt hours are required to provide us with imported water.” Urging passage of the agenda bill, Beanan affirmed that “one day we’ll have reclaimed water.” Journalist and current EC member Sharael Kolberg recommended passage of the agenda bill and not using air conditioning in Council Chambers; to model carbon-conscious behavior, simply open the windows for ventilation, she suggested.

The council’s support for upping implementation of the city’s Climate Protection Action Plan was most impressive.  Before voting affirmatively to adopt Ms. Rollinger’s agenda bill, council members brainstormed ways to carry out the intent of the four steps it proposed. In my tracking of the city’s handling of climate change over the past five years, the recent council meeting demonstrated clearly that momentum is building within that elected, decision-making body for taking action. There is every reason to believe that the soon- to-be reconstituted EC will move matters forward even more.

Those reading my previous column may recall that I gave City Hall a grade of “B+” on implementation of Laguna Beach’s Climate Protection Action Plan to date. I noted that in this town of high achievers, I felt confident that an “A” grade would be in the offing. The recent passage of the climate protection agenda bill just described is further evidence of the seriousness with which our council is moving on this critically important issue. If this momentum is maintained, an “A” grade is assuredly within reach.

Tom Osborne, author of two books, is a retired Santa Ana College history professor, a former EC member, and a recent recipient of the city’s Environmental Award.

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